Enthralled with legends of medieval knights and ladies, dark fairy tales and fantasies about Druids, wizards and magic, Jennifer Ivy Walker always dreamed of becoming a writer. She fell in love with French in junior high school, continuing her study of the language throughout college, eventually becoming a high school teacher and college professor of French.
As a high school teacher, she took her students every year to the annual French competition, where they performed a play she had written, “Yseult la Belle et Tristan la Bête”–an imaginative blend of the medieval French legend of “Tristan et Yseult” and the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast”, enhanced with fantasy elements of a Celtic fairy and a wicked witch.
Her debut novel, “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven“–the first of a trilogy– is a blend of her love for medieval legends, the romantic French language, and paranormal fantasy. It is a retelling of the medieval French romance of “Tristan et Yseult”, interwoven with Arthurian myth, dark fairy tales from the enchanted Forest of Brocéliande, and otherworldly elements such as Avalonian Elves, Druids, forest fairies and magic.
Explore her realm of Medieval French Fantasy. She hopes her novels will enchant you.
TBE: Hi Jennifer! Welcome to The Bookish Elf! Thank you for joining us. We’re thrilled to hear about you and your writing. Firstly, could you tell us more about yourself?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: Hi, thanks very much for hosting me today. I am a former high school and current college professor of French who also writes Medieval French Fantasy. “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven” is my debut novel, the first in a trilogy. Book 2, “The Lady of the Mirrored Lake”, is being released January 23, and book 3, “The Emerald Fairy and the Dragon Knight”, soon thereafter. All three are published by The Wild Rose Press.
TBE: For those who haven’t yet read the incredible ‘The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven’, can you briefly sum up what it’s about?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: It’s a paranormal fantasy adaptation of the medieval French legend of Tristan et Yseult, interwoven with Arthurian myth and otherworldly elements such as Druids, Elves, forest fairies, Avalon, and magic– enhanced with dark fairy tales from the enchanted Forest of Brocéliande, birthplace of Merlin, Lancelot, and the Lady of the Lake Viviane.
TBE: The storyline of ‘The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven’ is definitely intriguing, filled with fantasy, adventure, and mystery. It’s also daring, thoughtful, and embedded with powerful themes. What made you want to write this particular story in the first place? Where did the idea come from? Why did you choose to write about the Celtic tale of Tristan and Iseult? Are they your favourite characters from the French legend?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: When I earned my MA in French literature, I discovered the medieval legend of Tristan et Yseult and fell in love with it. As a high school French teacher, I had my advanced classes read that medieval roman courtois as part of our study of France in the Middle Ages.
I enhanced my students’ learning by illustrating the story with puppets, playing the French musical, “Tristan et Yseult” (with Magali Neslot and Solal), teaching a medieval Breton dance as we danced to the song, “Les Noces” from that musical, watching the French version of the film “Tristan and Isolde” (with James Franco and Sophia Myles), culminating in “Le Théâtre en Classe”– where my students reenacted the story in costumes, even performing a play I had written for them at the annual state French competition.
I decided to write my trilogy based on my love for the medieval legend, the different musical, theatrical, and cinematographic interpretations of that French tale, and the play I had written for my students.
TBE: You used to teach French at the high school level and were awarded a coveted teacher scholarship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to attend Le Festival d’Avignon. With your extensive knowledge of medieval and legendary content, you must have been mindful about sticking to established conventions while adapting the Tristan tale. What kind of creative leeway did you give yourself while retelling such classic sources? Did you ever have the feeling that the limitations you were working within really helped you to become more reflective?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: I never liked the tragic ending of the original legend. Tristan and Yseult pined for each other throughout the story and ended up dying of broken hearts, much like Romeo and Juliette. Although I did retain a lot of the original storyline in developing my trilogy, I created new characters and rewove the plot with much more inclusion of the Arthurian myth related to the French legend. I also incorporated paranormal fantasy elements, such as Druids, forest fairies, Elves, dwarves, and dark lore from the mystical Forest of Brocéliande. I even created my own version of Avalon –based on French research–with an entirely different ending than the original medieval French legend of Tristan et Yseult.
TBE: Considering that you were retelling a Celtic legend, how much research did you do to fill in this kind of story? Did you read the texts in their original language? Which versions of the Tristan legend did you find most helpful for writing your novel?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: Yes, I read the texts in French while earning my MA in French literature. I also read other interpretations of the legend of Tristan and Isolde, but those were based on English language versions of the story, and I preferred the French texts, especially Joseph Bédier’s novel Tristan et Iseult and Le Lai du Chèvrefeuille by the medieval French poet Marie de France. I researched numerous versions of Arthurian legend but preferred the French interpretations of those myths as well, which I also wove into my trilogy. And I read– in French—lots of folklore from the mystical Forest of Brocéliande, incorporating at least seven or eight different dark tales into “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven” trilogy.
TBE: When writing a story, where do you generally start? Do you pick the characters first, the overall plot, or the story’s moral/theme, etc? Do you have to plan out every detail of your story in advance, or do you just have a good idea of where it’s going?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: My trilogy began with a paranormal fantasy retelling of a medieval French legend. But my current work in progress evolved from characters introduced in “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven” trilogy. I am writing a new medieval historical romance, weaving together themes introduced in my trilogy, my cultural knowledge of the Middle Ages in France and the Viking influence on Normandy, various elements of Victor Hugo’s style of French Romanticism—incorporating it all into a passionate story of a fiery French Viking princess and the chivalrous, sullen knight who suffers an impossible love for her.
TBE: Let’s talk world building. You’ve created a truly unique world. Can you share a bit about how you developed this fantasy world and all the magical elements that live within it?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: I read and researched French legends from the enchanted Forest of Brocéliande for many aspects of the fantasy world, including tales of Lancelot, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, and Avalon. I also drew upon my childhood experiences growing up on a tidal bay in Maine and my keen interest in plants, herbs, and healing crystals. I’ve always loved Victor Hugo’s works, having studied French Romanticism with a passion, and I incorporated that love and creative inspiration into my novels as well. As a French teacher, I frequently traveled to France, visiting châteaux, sites of medieval pilgrimage, and troglodyte caves of the Loire Valley. I blended all of this together, weaving in certain aspects of fairy tales, such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, to embroider the medieval legend of Tristan et Yseult with creative, vivid imagery and fiery, romantic passion.
TBE: What is it about the fantasy genre that appeals to you and compels you to want to create inside that space? When you write a series, do you have a general idea of how the story will progress through each installment?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: I have always loved stories of medieval knights and ladies, King Arthur and the Round Table, Avalon, Lord of the Rings, dark fairy tales, and recently, Game of Thrones. I love creating my own fantasy world with paranormal elements and mythical creatures. I have many more novels planned for the future, with precise ideas for subsequent works, expanding upon the fantasy world created in “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven” trilogy.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Jennifer Ivy Walker: “The Lady of the Mirrored Lake”—book 2 of “The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven” trilogy—will be released January 23. Book 3, “The Emerald Fairy and the Dragon Knight”—the conclusion of the trilogy—will be published soon thereafter. And my current work in progress is a medieval historical romance between a feisty French Viking princess forced to marry a man she loathes and the sullen, chivalrous knight who suffers an impossible love for his vibrant, valiant Valkyrie.